Trump Moves to Shield Mueller Documents Ahead of Contempt Vote
(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump has asserted executive privilege over all of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigative documents sought by House Democrats, a major escalation in a conflict between the White House and Congress.
"The president has asserted executive privilege over the entirety of the subpoenaed materials," the Justice Department wrote in a letter Wednesday to House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler.
The move comes just as Nadler’s committee was set to vote on holding Attorney General William Barr in contempt for failing to comply with the subpoena, which sought access to a full, unredacted version of Mueller’s final report as well as all of his underlying evidence, such as notes that White House aides made.
“Faced with Chairman Nadler’s blatant abuse of power, and at the attorney general’s request, the President has no other option than to make a protective assertion of executive privilege,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement.
The Justice Department told Nadler on Wednesday that it is terminating all negotiations with the panel over access to the full and unredacted Mueller report. And Barr sent Trump a letter Wednesday asking him to "make a protective assertion of executive privilege."
Barr said he was making the request because the Judiciary panel "demands all of the Special Counsel’s investigative files, which consist of millions of pages of classified and unclassified documents bearing upon more than two dozen criminal cases and investigations, many of which are ongoing."
Nadler, speaking ahead of the panel’s contempt vote, said: "This is information we are legally entitled to receive and constitutionally obligated to review."
The assertion of executive privilege on Wednesday, though, has no direct bearing on the ability of Mueller to testify before Congress, a Justice Department official said.
Trump’s advisers have been pushing him to defy congressional investigations in hopes of luring Democrats into escalating a fight that they say will turn voters against the party in the 2020 elections. They also see an upside from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s warning on Tuesday that the administration’s defiance of subpoenas could lead to impeachment proceedings, arguing they would distract attention from candidates vying to replace Trump.
Separately, the administration on Tuesday told former White House Counsel Don McGahn not to comply with a subpoena from House Democrats to turn over documents. Over the weekend, Trump tweeted that Mueller shouldn’t testify to Congress, and on Monday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin refused a request to turn over Trump’s tax returns.
White House advisers say cooperating with Democrats provides little advantage as many voters have already made up their mind about Trump’s character. Records from Trump’s business or time as president could reveal damaging information for Democrats to use against him.
But the effort to turn Trump’s potential liabilities into a 2020 election advantage carries risks. The president’s refusal to turn over documents could lead voters to conclude he has something to hide and focus attention on the Mueller investigation, which painted an unflattering picture of Trump even if it didn’t result in a criminal indictment. That could turn off moderate and independent voters in key swing states like Pennsylvania.
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